No. 1…For Now

Google, which earned the top spot in this year’s Fast 50, is like no other company I’ve visited in ten years at Fast Company, and I’ve explored the inner workings of some of the most creative organizations out there–from Dell to Disney, eBay to IBM, Motorola to the Mayo Clinic.

You don’t hear complaints about bureaucratic obstacles, although Google now boasts more than 16,000 employees worldwide. You don’t hear about bottom-line pressure on new products. You hear about autonomy. You hear about speed. You hear about feedback from “Larry and Sergey and Eric” – co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt.

It’s easy to see why Google attracts top engineers from Microsoft and Yahoo as well as independent-minded entrepreneurs. In many ways, Google still behaves like a start-up, although everybody knows that’s impossible for a big company–isn’t it? The Googleplex oozes creativity, fearlessness, and fun. The lingo (Nooglers, Googlers, Googly and so on) and culture are easy for outsiders to mock, but they’re indicative of the closely-knit community that Google nurtures and protects with the utmost care.

That community might be put to the test soon. According to a new comScore report, U.S. Web users clicked on slightly fewer search ads in January than they did a year ago. Those clicks are the big moneymaker for Google. Is this a crack in the armor, perhaps? Nothing more than a post-holiday aberration? We’ll see. Googlers think they have the answer for any significant slowdown–enough cash in the bank and the right culture. “We’re strong believers that as long as we keep innovating, we won’t have a lull,” says Andy Rubin, the brains behind Android, Google’s phone platform. “It’s all about planting seeds.”CS